a week in wireless

Your number’s up

It sounds like the plot of one of those eerie Japanese horror films that seem to always spawn inferior US remakes: Bulgarian mobile operator Mobiltel, part of Telekom Austria, has discontinued the phone number 0888 888 888 after the three people to whom the number was allocated have all died early or violent deaths.

The number was first given to Mobiltel CEO Vladimir Crashnov, who died at 48 of cancer in 2001, according to a report in the UK’s Telegraph newspaper. It then passed to a Bulgarian mafia boss Konstantin Dimitrov, who was assassinated in 2003, at which point it was reallocated to another Konstantin; this time with the surname Dishliev. An estate agent leading a tawdry secret existence as a cocaine dealer (it occurs to the Informer that a cocaine dealer could just as easily be leading a tawdry secret existence as an estate agent), Dishliev was shot dead in 2005.

So the number has been discontinued, fuelling suggestions that it may somehow be jinxed. There’s one way to prove/disprove this theory, of course, and that’s to carry on giving it to people. To estate agents, to start with. Once the number’s worked its magic, we can move onto other undesirables.

Across the water in Russia, this week brought us the untimely demise of a technology, rather than gangsters. Russian WiMAX operator Scartel (which, to be fair, does sound like the kind of organisation that might be run by an early 80s Al Pacino character) is shifting its favour to rival technology LTE. Under its Yota brand, the firm has already dropped almost half a billion dollars building out WiMAX coverage in Russia and St Petersburg. Now, the Informer understands, Yota is looking to deploy LTE in other Russian markets, and to bring the 4G cellular standard to its two existing markets next year.

Not everyone’s losing faith in “the other 4G technology”. Korean carrier SK Telecom announced this week that it is to sink $100m into Malaysian WiMAX player Packet One. The cash buys it a 25 per cent stake in the business which reported annual revenues of $43.8m in 2009, and 175,000 subscribers at the end of Q1 this year. SK said the deal was part of an ongoing regional and international expansion plan, with Man Won Jung, SK’s president and CEO, trumpeting P1’s “huge growth potential”.

Fellow Korean Samsung launched the first of its handsets to be based on its homegrown operating system Bada into Europe this week, with commercial availability in the UK, Germany and France set for Tuesday next week. Later this year, the firm said, the Wave handset will be available in Southeast Asia, China, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.

In other handset news, the iPad made its debut outside the US, in nine countries including the UK. In this country only T-Mobile is without an iPad distribution deal. 3UK’s pricing for the usage on the 3G enabled device, on a one month rolling contract, is £7.50/month for 1GB of data or £15 for 10GB. That’s after you’ve sold one of your kidneys to be able to buy the hardware, which is priced at £700 for the 64GB version. Ooof.

And the iPad could be bad news for operator networks, at least according to Bridgewater Systems. The firm cited network tests on the iPad conducted by Bytemobile recently that showed the iPad generated more than 2.5 times the volume of data generated by the iPhone for identical tasks. “It’s an astonishing figure and one that could have serious consequences for network planning should the device become popular globally,” said Bridgewater’s David Sharpley.

It makes sense, though. With that big screen, and all, the pictures need to be larger than on the little iPhone. It’s entirely logical, therefore, that the thing will use more data!

There seems little doubt of the device’s prospective popularity, however. Take up so far has been twice as fast as the iPhone when it first launched. All of which probably helped Apple overtake Microsoft in terms of market cap this week, with the firm valued at $222bn compared to Microsoft’s $219bn at the close of trading on Wednesday.

Meanwhile Dell unveiled a tablet of its own, based on Android. The ‘Streak’ has a five-inch touch screen and is based on Android stalwart processor, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon. It’s got 3G, wifi, Bluetooth and GPS. Despite its size it can also be used to make voice calls, and also boasts a five megapixel camera, a Micro SD slot, 2GB of internal storage, integrated Google Maps with turn-by-turn navigation, and a removable battery.

All of these tablets will combine to form a bitter pill for the e-reader market, according to Informa Telecoms & Media, which is set to diminish in the face of a wave of multi-function devices. ITM said e-reader sales will peak at 14 million in 2013, before falling by seven per cent in 2014. “In its current incarnation, the e-reader offers a good reading experience, high levels of portability and great battery life. However, it is under threat from the availability of electronic book (e-book) content on multifunctional devices such as mobile phones, tablet computers, netbooks and other portable consumer electronic devices,” said Gavin Byrne, senior analyst at Informa. “Mobile broadband-capable e-readers will also face competition from much cheaper non-connected models that are targeting a lower retail price in order to stimulate adoption,“ he added.

Also under well documented threat is Nokia’s position in the very top end of the handset market. Gartner numbers reported this week show that Nokia has sold less than 100,000 of its Maemo-based N900 product in the first five months of its availability, which is far from a stellar performance. On the upside, shipping product in such small volume probably helped the Finnish firm retain its top spot in the Greenpeace rankings of environmentally sound electrical manufacturers. Samsung, Toshiba and Dell all took a tumble in the listing, while Apple and HP are apparently making excellent progress.

Nokia signed a big deal with Yahoo this week, with the two firms brought together, as is so often the case, by the threat of a common enemy; in this case Google. Under the partnership Nokia will be the exclusive provider of Yahoo!’s maps and navigation services, integrating Ovi Maps across Yahoo properties, which will now be branded as “powered by Ovi.” Yahoo meanwhile, will become the exclusive provider of Nokia’s Ovi Mail and Ovi Chat services, which will be branded as “Ovi Mail/Ovi Chat powered by Yahoo!”

The two firms will also work on ID federation between their services, with the aim of making it easy for people to use their Ovi user IDs across select Yahoo properties. Co-branded service offerings are expected to become available from the second half of 2010, with global availability expected in 2011.

Carol Bartz, CEO of Yahoo, said the deal would help expand the reach of its services, particularly in emerging markets, where the firm is building its next generation of Yahoo users. According to Guillermo Escofet, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media, the strategic alliance sees the two companies playing catch up with Google on the search and mapping fronts.

“The Finnish handset giant was forced to make Ovi Maps free in January to remain competitive with Google’s free mapping service on phones, but whilst Google has a well-oiled machine to make money from users searching for local services on Google Maps, Ovi Maps is far more geared at how to get users from A to B than at linking them to nearby services that have paid money to be discovered. The Yahoo Local service should help to fill that gap,” Escofet said. “The partnership makes sense. But it is going to be very difficult to erode the lead that Google already has,” he said.

Google probably couldn’t give a monkey’s, especially now that the US Federal Trade Commission has ended its investigation into Google’s purchase of mobile advertising specialist AdMob. The FTC concluded that the deal is unlikely to harm competition in the nascent mobile advertising market.

In an interesting twist, the FTC’s decision appears to have been swayed to an extent by Apple. “Although the combination of the two leading mobile advertising networks raised serious antitrust issues, the agency’s concerns ultimately were overshadowed by recent developments in the market, most notably a move by Apple Computer Inc. – the maker of the iPhone – to launch its own, competing mobile ad network,” the FTC said in a statement.

“As a result of Apple’s entry (into the market), AdMob’s success to date on the iPhone platform is unlikely to be an accurate predictor of AdMob’s competitive significance going forward, whether AdMob is owned by Google or not,” the Commission’s statement said.

According to analyst house IDC, the deal gives Google a clear lead in the mobile advertising space in the US at least. At the end of 2009, AdMob was estimated to have 11 per cent of the US market, while Google had 10 per cent. The nearest competitors are Millennial Media with 12 per cent and Yahoo with 10 per cent. Apple’s newly acquired operation, Quattro Wireless, has 7 per cent.

Not everybody was so happy to hear the news. Simon Buckingham, CEO of Appitalism and a recent campaigner against Google’s acquisition of AdMob, believes the move will dramatically increase the cost of advertising for app developers, especially given that the Quattro has been acquired by Apple.

“The FTC’s decision to allow Google’s acquisition of AdMob allows the clear number one and two players in the mobile advertising market to merge. This means that advertisers really have no place to go to buy mobile advertising on non-Apple platforms other than Google as Quattro focuses more and more on iAds,” Buckingham said.

The Appitalism CEO also warned that Google hasn’t yet launched its AdSense for mobile apps program commercially but when it goes commercial, he claims Google will control the vast majority of mobile advertising inventory worldwide.

Oh well, we’re always going to be under somebody’s boot.

Take care

The Informer

One comment

  1. Avatar Benny Lava 28/05/2010 @ 1:47 pm

    Actually, Mobiltel did not suspend that number 0888 888 888 -it is still in operation and, I believe, is owned by a Bulgarian businessman, who owns a large grain dealing company.
    Though the story of the three dead guys is basically true when it comes to their deaths, the Telegraph guy simply made the story up and his editors bought it.
    There is no evidence that Dimitrov or Dishliev ever used that number – guys like these usually never keep a number for a long period of time for fear of police tapping them.

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